{Ep. 026: Emily Fonnesbeck on Orthorexia and the BIG Problem with Elimination Diets"


One of my favorite things about hosting this podcast is my guests’ willingness to share their stories. Today’s guest, Emily Fonnesbeck, was so generous in sharing her personal history with orthorexia, and how her eating disorder recovery now informs her practice as a dietitian. Emily is a Registered Dietitian and her practice is in southern Utah.

Here are some of the highlights from this episode:


  • Orthorexia, directly translated means “perfect eating”. It is typically accompanied by a lot of food rules, elimination diets or “cleanses”, and an obsession with “clean” or “pure” eating.
  • Emily talks about how her “functionally dysfunctional” relationship with food and exercise snowballed, overtime, into “full-blown” orthorexia.
  • Orthorexia, combined with an exercise addiction lead to a pelvic stress fracture, a weak and fatigued body, and a slew of digestive issues (all of which are very common side effects of under-eating and overexercising).
  • Orthorexia, exercise addiction, and perfectionism are really praised in our culture. Emily talks about how the biggest lie her eating disorder told her was that, in order to be strong, she needed to ‘stick to the diet’.  

Discerning Between Food Rules vs. Food Values

  • Emily talks about how food rules are really anxious, and often driven by perfectionism and a need to control; they often elicit dichotomous thinking and deal in absolutes (separating foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy).
  • Food values on the other hand, are really empowering. Now, Emily’s number one food rule is that food has to be flexible.
  • When your behaviors are no longer in conflict with your values, you can start listening to the “healthy self” versus the “eating disorder self”.

 Digestive Health

  • Emily and I were both trained in an extreme approach to digestive health, where the number one solution was an elimination diet. Listen to my episode with Lauren Dear to see that there is more than one way to treat digestive dysfunction!
  • Emily states “I will maintain that elimination diets are what caused orthorexia for me”.
  • Elimination diets have no place in eating disorder treatment and can easily trigger an eating disorder in an individual who is predisposed.
  • Before we put someone on an elimination diet, we need to do a VERY thorough screening to see if someone has eating disorder tendencies or qualities.
  • It’s important to note that often, greater flexibility with food supports digestive function. And to add fuel to that fire, under-eating can exacerbate (and cause) inflammation.
  • If you have digestive issues, there are things we can do that will support your digestive health, without an elimination diet. And, if you’re in recovery from an eating disorder with a digestive issue, you can take steps to improve your symptoms without fear of relapse, under the care of a trained professional of course!
  • Bottom line: DO NOT DIY GUT HEALTH.

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